Social worker claims Erlanger fired her for raising questions about suicide case

Social worker claims Erlanger fired her for raising questions about suicide case

December 28th, 2016 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Erlanger Health System

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A 45-year-old social worker at Erlanger says she was fired for raising questions about the hospital's reaction to a patient who committed suicide.

Veronica Lackey is asking Erlanger Health System and two of its supervisors for $500,000, saying she didn't have the necessary training to call for an "emergency code" on July 26, according to a recent lawsuit in Hamilton County Circuit Court. As a result, Lackey was placed on probation and moved to a different department. No one else was punished, the lawsuit says. But when Lackey tried to file an official complaint saying as much, she was fired shortly after.

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said the hospital had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 21, and could not comment.

According to the lawsuit, Lackey was walking down a patient floor with a medical student on July 26 when two people rushed out of a room and said they needed help: A male patient had hanged himself in the bathroom.

Inside the room, Lackey and the medical student found a nurse trying to give the man CPR. The nurse asked the duo to give a "code" for a medical emergency. But no one at Erlanger had ever trained her to give a code, so Lackey ran to a nearby nurses' station, the suit says.

There, the suit says, she found a nurse employee and said, "where are the nurses when you need them?" Lackey added that a patient had hanged himself and the nurse giving him treatment required a "code."

The employee also did not call for a code, the lawsuit says. This time, Lackey ran to a break room on the floor and found five nurses. When she told them what was going on, they all left the break room, the suit says.

The patient died soon after.

Lackey's problems began Aug. 4, when Donna Bourdon, her supervisor and vice president of case management at Erlanger, said she was going to discipline the 45-year-old woman for not calling a code, spreading rumors that nurses were unavailable, creating improper documentation about the suicide victim, and missing a root-cause meeting on the incident, according to the lawsuit.

In her lawsuit, Lackey denied the charges and said she missed the root-cause meeting because it had been scheduled two days beforehand and she saw the email too late. Still, she was placed on two-year probation and moved to a different floor with a larger workload, her suit says.

About two weeks later, she filed an official grievance, asserting that she had never been trained to give a "call." Other more qualified people, like the medical student and the first nurse employee, were not reprimanded, she pointed out. Neither were the five nurses in the break room, her suit says.

Her grievance was turned down, and for a specific reason, her attorney Robin Flores said Tuesday.

"They did this, basically pointing the finger at her, to absolve themselves of any liability," he said. "It all ties back to she was scrambling around trying to find help for a nurse who was giving CPR. The first nurse didn't call a code. The medical student didn't call a code. And they dumped it all on her — a licensed social worker who claims she didn't have knowledge of the codes."

Lackey never had any write-ups or documentation problems before being placed on probation, Flores said. But three to four weeks into being put on probation on another floor, she was terminated because of three complaints and "continued problems with regard to documentation," the suit says.

"At no time did anyone on behalf of Erlanger ever notify [Lackey] about any problems with 'documentation' prior to the termination of [her] employment," the suit says.

The lawsuit says a second element explains her punishment: Discrimination.

Lackey is black. The medical student, first nurse employee, and five nurses in the breakroom were all white, the suit says.

Furthermore, Lackey says in her lawsuit, Erlanger employed a white man in her same position who acrued multiple and persistent complaints from patients, liasons from other medical providers, and fellow employees.

"Rather than terminate [him], Erlanger simply moved [him] to another department that did not require his interaction with patients and limited his contact with fellow employees," the lawsuit states.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.